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“OUT OF THE DARK” (Movie Review)

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The most promising credit in the opening of OUT OF THE DARK isn’t necessarily one of its experienced cast names, but that of Participant Media, which has previously been allied more with socially relevant fare like GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK and AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH than with traditional horror flicks. The ends of this particular film explain the company’s involvement, though the means prove wobbly.

A Spanish-Colombian co-production, OUT OF THE DARK (currently available on VOD and opening in select theaters today) joins the parade of supernatural thrillers to emerge from Latin America in the past half-decade, albeit with less invention. The setting is the fictional town of Santa Clara, to which Sarah and Paul Harriman (Julia Stiles and Scott Speedman) arrive with their little daughter Hannah (Pixie Davies) in the opening scenes. Sarah has been given a job managing a family-owned paper factory by her father Jordan (Stephen Rea), who sets them up in a lavish, expansive house bordering the nearby forest.

Unbeknownst to them, but beknownst to us thanks to a prologue, their new home was once the site of a nasty death precipitated by creepy, half-seen youngsters. A potential clue to their origin lies in the fact that the Harrimans have come to Santa Clara just in time for La Fiesta de los Niños Santos (Festival of the Holy Children), which honors a tragic event that befell the village’s preteen population at the hands of conquistadors centuries ago. Past sins visited upon kids resonating in the present day is a recurring motif of Spanish/Latin American chillers, and there are in fact a number of familiar echoes of prior films here, as when Catalina (Vanesa Tamayo), the nanny taking care of Hannah one night, is spooked by a ball that mysteriously tumbles down the stairs and across the floor.

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The story development follows the bouncing ball too, hitting all the expected beats of this kind of movie. Despite the presence of three screenwriters, and good ones, too—CARRIERS’ Alex and David Pastor and ENEMY’s Javier Gullón—OUT OF THE DARK feels as factory-assembled as the paper produced by the Harrimans’ mill. Which is not to say it’s hard to watch; director Lluís Quílez, making his feature debut after award-winning short-film work and a 2nd-unit gig on the underseen PAINLESS, fills the screen with both atmosphere and local color. Isaac Vila’s handsome cinematography is the strongest asset of the movie, which also boasts a lush, eerie score by Spanish genre regular Fernando Velázquez, one of a few veterans of THE ORPHANAGE to work on this picture.

Unlike THE ORPHANAGE, or THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE (with which it also shares a few similarities), though, OUT OF THE DARK is content to go through its good-looking motions without offering the audience much that’s fresh or its cast the opportunity to surprise. Stiles and Speedman convey the right amounts of concern and fear, and little Davies gives a refreshingly non-hysterical performance, as they make their way through a scenario that ends up harking back to POLTERGEIST as well. That’s where the theme that no doubt sparked Participant’s interest eventually comes into play, via a revelation that’s rather unsubtly signposted a couple of times in the early going.

All involved clearly made OUT OF THE DARK with good intentions—but you know what they say about where that road leads. In this case, taking a path less traveled would have made a hell of a difference.

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About the author
Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold has been a member of the FANGORIA team for the past three decades. After starting as a writer for the magazine in 1988, he came aboard as associate editor in 1990 and two years later moved up to managing editor. He now serves as editor-in-chief of the magazine while continuing to contribute numerous articles and reviews, as well as a contributing editor/writer for this website.
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